John W. Arthur


Associate Professor, Anthropology

University of South Florida Saint Petersburg

140 7th Avenue South, Davis Hall 270

Saint Petersburg, Florida 33701-5016

Office Phone: (727) 873-4960

Fax: (727) 873-4526


My present research focuses on interpreting social stratification from African archaeological and living contexts. Currently, since 2005, I have been engaged in a project with Kathryn Arthur and Matthew Curtis on studying the history and prehistory of the Gamo people, who live in the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia, through the dialogue between oral history, ethnoarchaeology, life histories, and archaeology. We have revealed the origin, location, and organization of historical settlements in the region and have found evidence of households belonging to different caste groups. This research is briefly described in the Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Record published in the January 2010 issue.

My previous ethnoarchaeological research used the life cycle approach (i.e., procurement to discard), to view the many contexts that ceramics can undergo in a complex stratified society, revealing that household ceramics are an excellent indicator of household social stratification. This research is the focus of my book published in 2006 by the University of Utah Press Foundations of Archaeological Inquiry Series and is titled, Living with Pottery: Ethnoarchaeology among the Gamo of southwest Ethiopia and peer-reviewed articles (African Archaeological Review 2014, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 2014, Asian and African Study Monographs, Kyoto University 2013, American Antiquity 2009).  My studies in Ethiopia also indicated that beer production is visible in the form of residues on archaeological ceramics, and as a consequence beer producing elite households can be distinguished from non-beer producing commoner households, (Anthropology Now 2014, World Archaeology 2003 and Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 2002). In addition to my research in Ethiopia, I have collaboratively written with Kathryn Weedman Arthur about the methodological importance of ethnoarchaeology, which is the study of present-day material culture to help interpret the archaeological past (Handbook of Archaeological Methods 2005).

Since 2007, I have begun to work at the Weedon Island site (8PI1) in Pinellas County, Florida with USFSP students doing small test units near the shell midden. While training our students in archaeological methods, we are trying to delineate house features and to develop a method of understanding calories from the different shells we’re uncovering. By looking at the resources Native Americans were utilizing a 1000 years ago to today, we hope to determine the ecological changes Tampa Bay has has undergone over the last millennia.  (see

I am a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.